Darren Ford of the San Francisco Giants scores the winning run against catcher Kurt Suzuki #8 of the Oakland A's while knocking the ball loose on a single by Emmanuel Burriss in the 11th inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. The Giants won 5-4 in 11 innings. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
On Saturday, news broke that MLB is considering realigning the 30 teams into two equal leagues of 15 teams each; moreover, the news held the possibility that the leagues could be one-size-fits-all, with no divisions. The top five qualifiers in each league would make the playoffs.
Earlier today, Baseball Nation's Rob Neyer said, "Bring it on."
I'm here to say, "Wait just a second, because there are issues here that maybe, possibly, even probably, would make this a logistical nightmare."
I'm not going to be one of those get-off-my-lawn people. When MLB split into three divisions in each league in 1994, adding a wild card team to each league's postseason party, I was all for it (especially as a Cubs fan; one more shot at making the playoffs every year sounded real good to me). Three years later, there was a proposal floated to blow up the 100+ year old league structure and align all the teams by geography. This would have put the Yankees and Mets, Cubs and White Sox, Dodgers and Angels, and Giants and Athletics in the same divisions with each other, city rivals playing up to 18 games a year.
Traditionalists like me howled. Toss away 100 years of tradition and league records to, essentially, reduce travel expenses?
Fortunately, that proposal resides in the dustbin of history. And for the last 15 years, baseball has been wildly successful, with some wild card teams winning the World Series and interleague play, in its limited form, bringing more fans to the ballpark to see players they hadn't been able to see in the rigid one-league-only standard. It wasn't fair for fans in Baltimore to never see Willie Mays play in their home park, nor for fans in Milwaukee or Atlanta to never see Mickey Mantle.
There are two basic issues I have with the proposed 15/15 split. First, to put all the teams back in a single league, with only the top five qualifying for the playoffs, would make tickets a real tough sell for some of the small market clubs. Who's going to want to see a team that never finishes higher than 13th? At least now, even with teams that have been mediocre or bad for many years, in divisions of six or fewer, maybe that team has a fluke year and squeezes out a division title in a weak season. Or at least contends for a brief time. But if, say, all current AL teams are placed in one 15-team pile, how'd you like to be the Tigers or Indians? As of Sunday morning, those teams were tied atop the AL Central. In a 15-team American League, they'd be six games behind the Red Sox -- tied for fourth. And it's only mid-June; by mid-July, these division leaders could be ten or more games out. Sure, they'd make the playoffs in that scenario, but teams right behind them, who might dream of a hot streak and a division lead, might be mired in eighth or ninth place.
The second problem is that with an odd number of teams in each league, you'd have to have an interleague series at all times throughout the season (or increase the number of off days, lengthening the year, something no one wants). This would likely mean an increase of interleague games from the current 12, 15 or 18 (depending on your team's division) to at least 30.
Now, at first glance you might say, "Who cares?" But if you're a Red Sox or Yankees fan, do you want less games with your rival and more with the Pirates? If you're a Cubs or Cardinals fan, do you want less of that rivalry and more of the Mariners? If the Giants/Dodgers rivalry excites you, do you want to see less of your West Coast rival and more of the Blue Jays? Because that's probably what you'd get with realignment, even if you kept divisions (of five teams each, most likely).
It's been said that you'd just schedule teams that were "bad" the previous year to play interleague games in September, to avoid contending teams playing out of their league in a playoff chase. That's easier said than done -- the schedule is already a mess, plus, how can you guarantee who's going to contend one year ahead of time? If this had been done last year, for example, the Padres and White Sox, both with losing 2009 records, might have been playing interleague games against each other in September 2010 -- but both of those teams were contenders last season.
Baseball's history is filled with messy things. It's part of the game's charm, in my view. 16 teams in one league and 14 in the other is just one of those quirks that I, among may other baseball fans, love about this game. There are good reasons, both for tradition and logistics, to leave things the way they are.